It doesn’t seem like I’ll be writing in depth about my experience at the Nyeleni Europe conference. I have much to say, but I am not motivated to say it … and this post from another participant does a good job of touching on some (not all) of the subjects that resonated inside me.
However, one thing has persisted in me … and I do want to express my gratitude to Ramona, Attila, Raluca and Derek and the interns of EcoRuralis who together with the volunteers that surrounded them made it possible for me to partake in and witness such an event. This was possible for me because 1) the event was held here in Cluj (I would not have travelled for it) and 2) they invited me to be part of the Romanian delegation.
I do not consider myself an activist and I am always grateful for the inclusiveness and embrace I feel from the EcoRuralis team, both personally and in the context of Cutia Taranului. This feeling was with me from first meeting them almost 6 years ago (by randomly walking into their office) and was amplified against the backdrop of the Nyeleni conference. The voice of Nyeleni, as it manifested in this conference, was one of extreme, loud and painfully aggressive activism. It made me appreciate the qualities of moderation, reason and humility of the EcoRuralis team. Encountering them personally during the event created small islands of sanity.
Given that I live in semi-retreat, for me the event was a precious opportunity to witness what activism in Europe looks like (at least around food sovereignity). It was inspiring to see so many people come together around a shared interest, especially given the efforts that I imagine went into everyone converging on Cluj together. It was inspiring to know that this subject is in the consciousness of so many people across Europe (and beyond). It was impressive to realize the large populace that was represented in this forum … given that almost every person present at the conference represented anywhere from tens to thousands (and more!?) of people in their repective countries and communities. It was impressive to sense how a basic need like food can cut through cultural differences and become a shared and uniting thread.
It was also impressive (though in a different tone) to see the ease with which failed constructs in our current governing structures are subtly replicated in activist circles that want to introduce change. I feel we have much to learn and practice in coming and being together before we can take on complicated subjects such as food sovereignity. I do not feel “we” have earned the right to use that word “we” as obviously as some may want to. To make this point more concrete I want to give this small, recent and concrete example.
In the weeks following the event we were contacted by the Crisan family who have since joined Cutia Taranului with a special (sold out) Christmas box and a few variants of meat boxes that will start to be delivered in January. Their farm has been shrinking and collapsing (and they’ve had to take on office jobs for income) because they haven’t been able to market their produce … hopefully that will change now. Both we as Cutia Taranului (who are looking for local producers to bring to market) and the Crisan family (a producer that was looking to find a market) are members of EcoRuralis and yet we did not find each other and connect.
If we did not connect and come together when we were so near and so relevant to each other within a clear and shared context, how can we expect to collaborate on larger (national, European, or international) scales? I do not say this with a sense of blame. I offer it as a sobering observation (firstly to myself), a reality check to what I felt was an illusory sense of community that was conjured up at Nyeleni. I recognize and appreciate that we want to be community, but a group of people shouting demands together with fists in the air does not create community (its sad and scary).
YET … the fact that I was able to travel to the city for 5 consecutive days and be around more then 500 other people was a good sign. It told me that beneath the superficial manifestations lay something potent and valuable. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been there and to have witnessed it. Now, on with connecting producers and eaters … and hopefully a warm winter next to the rocket stove 🙂